We looked at hundreds of inkjet and laser printers during our research. Some didn't meet our quality standards, while others produce good results but were too costly for the majority of home users.
What remains are five machines that will do just about everything, from rapid black and white printing to scanning, copying, automatic color duplexing, and outputting from a smartphone.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
Our pick of the top five printers are:
Printer Type & Output Statistics
There has long been a battle between inkjet and laser as a printing method. It used to be that lasers were prohibitively expensive, but is that still the case? We also look at pages per minute, color quality, and other print-related elements.
Few printers just print any more, and prices of multi-function machines have dropped to where they are well within the reach of the home user. Having said that, is there an argument for a dedicated print-only machine? Do they save you money or give you better performance?
Most home printers can still plug into your computer, but now Wifi is common and more and more machines print wirelessly from smartphones and tablets. We look at what each model offers.
It's possible to find some very cheap home printers - sub $50 - but their faults frequently outweigh any savings, particularly when a good machine will cost you very little more. Even at the top end of the scale, high quality, multi-function printers remain remarkably affordable.
Matthew has led IT departments and tech teams in a variety of industries. Currently, he works in the sports gaming industry. He has written reviews and been involved with electronics procurement decisions for a number of players at the business and individual level for over a decade. In his spare time, you may find Matthew playing frisbee, golf, or reading a good novel.
Some people might be surprised that we've included a black and white printer in our top five but, there are plenty of very good reasons for choosing the Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer. This is a laser printer, rather than the more common inkjet. It's a print technology that for many years was expensive - and only really viable for office machines. Now, however, they are much more reasonably priced, their accessories are often cheaper than those for inkjets. The two big advantages with a dedicated mono laser printer are sharpness of text (which is excellent) and speed. The Samsung claims an output of up to 21 pages a minute, and while such claims should always be taken in context (it depends on complexity and how much ink or toner is actually put on the page), it is a useful number for comparison purposes. Print resolution is 1200 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch) and because of the way a laser printer operates, things like text, graphs and line drawings are clearer - free from the slight blurring you can get with inkjets.
The HP Envy 4520 Wireless Color Photo Printer is the first of our inkjets and, according to the manufacturer, is capable of printing "laser-sharp" documents. Actual output resolution varies, with up to 1200 x 600 dpi for mono and up to 4800 x 1200 dpi for color - although these figures are considerably lower when the HP Envy is used for copying. Page per minute rates vary enormously, starting at up to 20 ppm in black draft mode and 16 ppm in color draft mode (these either omit images or only provide low quality) and reducing to 9.5 ppm for mono and 6.8 ppm for color when used at full quality - which is really what most people would do, most of the time. The HP Envy has the ability to print "borderless" - right out to the edges of a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet - and also on both sides.
With the Canon PIXMA MX922 Wireless Color Photo Printer you get a rating for ipm (impressions per minute) rather than ppm. At first, this seems like an unnecessary complication, but Canon feel this is a better measure of duplex printing speed (both sides of the paper). It's an approach taken by some manufacturers and not others, so really you're left to make your own judgement. The printer will output black and white "impressions" at a rate of fifteen a minute, and color at ten, but keep in mind that image or text density will have a considerable impact on that number. As far as resolution is concerned, it's a big step up on the HP Envy at a maximum of 9600 x 2400 dpi. Like the HP, it will print right up to the edge but only on 6" x 4" photo paper and not on a full sheet. Often there's a noticeable delay between the time you hit the "print" button and when paper starts to come out of the machine. Canon claims their "Quick Start" feature reduces this, but no actual times are given.
"Performance Beyond Laser" is the proud boast of the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 Wireless Color All-in-One Inkjet Printer. It's another duplex printer, capable of 20 ipm black and white and 20 ipm color, although on further investigation we found that double-sided printing reduces this by about half. This calls into question the use of the ipm measure, and we've been unable to ascertain whether the Canon suffers the same speed drop. The safest option, in our opinion, is to be skeptical of most claimed print speeds on home printers, particularly when the manufacturers themselves put provisos like "depending on software, configuration and page complexity," in the small print! In real terms, we expect its performance will normally be similar to that of the Canon.
We return to laser technology with our final choice, the Brother HL3170CDW Wireless Color Printer — another machine that offers duplex printing but this time reverts to pages per minute as its measure of speed. Brother doen't quote separate rates for color and black & white, simply stating a maximum of 23 ppm mono. Resolution is up to 600 x 2400 dpi, but laser and inkjet resolutions shouldn't be compared directly because of the differences between laser toner and the ink used in inkjets. It's an area that, understandably, can confuse potential buyers, but unfortunately at present there's no real way to make direct comparisons. What standards there are can be applied to compare one inkjet with another, or one laser with another, but not lasers with inkjets.
The Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer is an entry-level black and white printer, so its feature set is relatively small. That shouldn't be taken as a negative but rather just an indication that it's focused on doing one task well. There is an Eco button that will reduce both toner use and energy consumption, although - as is common with most printers - this comes at the cost of output resolution or the removal of images. Fortunately, you do have a reasonable degree of control over this function, so you can tune things to your own purposes.
Apart from the Samsung, all of our top five machines offer auto duplexing. The HP Envy 4520 Wireless Color Photo Printer also has a flatbed scanning facility, with a maximum optical resolution of 1200 ppi (pixels per inch) - which should be sufficient for the majority of home users. It can also be used for copying (and will reduce down to 25% or enlarge to 400%), although output speeds and print quality can be quite a bit lower. A 2" screen gives access to a number of menu options as well as status indicators such as ink levels. While there are no complaints from owners about speed, some users did feel that there was quite a delay before the machine actually started printing.
The Canon PIXMA MX922 Wireless Color Photo Printer also benefits from scanning and copying functions, and it can be used as a fax as well. While, in general, faxes are less and less common, this can be a very useful tool for those who work from home. Actual scanner resolution is way up on the HP, at 2400 x 4800 dpi optical, putting this close to professional standards. For enriched color, the Canon has five inks, rather than the usual four - something they claim produces much better photo prints. There's also a special tray for printing on to CDs or DVDs and, given compatible technology, you can plug in a camera and view images on the built-in 3" screen (so there's no need to use your computer for photo prints), or even print stills from your favorite HD movies.
With the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 Wireless Color All-in-One Inkjet Printer, you also have a fax facility in addition to scanning (2400 dpi) and copying - plus a very useful 35-page auto document feeder so you can set quite substantial jobs going and come back when they're finished, rather than having to hand-feed them. This feature, in addition to two different media trays, makes this a very good choice as an office printer as well as one to use at home. Many of the functions are accessible from the 3.5" touch screen, which makes it quite an intuitive machine to operate - something that was pointed out by a number of users. A couple of owners did complain that they were disappointed with the "blackness" of the blacks, but the huge majority of user found the print quality to be excellent.
With the Brother HL3170CDW Wireless Color Printer, we have another machine that is dedicated to printing - and nothing else. So no scanner, fax, or copier. There is automated duplexing, but media handling is basic. While the 250-sheet tray is a decent capacity, if you want anything other than letter or legal size, you'll have to feed it by hand through the "manual by-pass slot."
Only a few years ago, we plugged our printer into our PC to print. Now, we expect to be able to print from all kinds of different devices - and even different locations. At a basic level, the Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer will connect to both Windows and Apple Mac. In addition to hard-wired solutions, the Samsung is compatible with any NFC (Near Field Communications) device - which includes most smartphones - and via Google Cloud, which should allow you to print from remote locations. Google Cloud will accommodate a wide range of tablets and other devices, but it may require the purchase of an additional app. There's also Wifi, which should be quick to set up using the WPS button - and indeed many owners raved about how simple it was to get this printer going. "Extremely easy to set up," is typical of the comments we received.
Ease of Wifi connection is also a feature of the HP Envy 4520 Wireless Color Photo Printer, although one or two owners reported some frustration with the set-up software in general. That aside, there's the usual range of Windows and Mac functionality (for desktops and laptops), and a whole raft of mobile printing options. First, there are HP's own remote and email printing apps, and if that's not enough to get it working with your smartphone or tablet, there's also compatibility with Google Cloud Print, Kindle Fire, and Apple Airprint.
If the HP Envy displays a wide range of connectivity, the Canon PIXMA MX922 Wireless Color Photo Printer goes even further. We can now take it for granted that all of the home printers rated here will connect to Windows computers and Macs and that all have Wifi accessibility, so it's smartphone and tablet compatibility that we most want to see as extras. The Canon works with Android devices, iPhones, and iPads by offering its own app, in addition to Airprint and Google Cloud. Where it goes further is in working with online services such as Google's Picasa and Canon's Image Gateway, so you can print directly from there as well.
Like the other printers reviewed, the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 Wireless Color All-in-One Inkjet Printer has all the connectivity you could want. There's Wifi that once again is very easy to set up, and there are ways to connect pretty much every mobile device out there: iPads, iPhones, and the huge majority of Android tablets and phones. Home workers, in particular, have found this multitude of options very convenient.
The Brother HL3170CDW Wireless Color Printer has the full range of Wifi and mobile device connectivity, much like the other printers on our shortlist. There's the proprietary Brother iprint&scan app, in addition to Airprint, Google Cloud, and Android compatibility, as you would expect. There was some variation in owner comments about the wireless set-up, with some saying it was easy but a few claiming they couldn't get Wifi to connect at all. Given that the complaint is not widespread, it might be either individual product faults (not unknown) or perhaps operator error.
The Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer can currently be found at around $83, half its usual list price. That's not much for what is a very good black and white home printer. OK, it doesn't do color - and for many people that puts it out of the running - but if you print a lot of black and white (if you work from home, for example), it's not only a cheap workhorse, but you'll likely save on toner compared to an inkjet, too. In fact, if you only print color photos, there's a strong argument for buying this and a small, dedicated photo printer, rather than an all-in-one machine. Actual owners are largely very positive, and "works beautifully, prints flawlessly," is among many enthusiastic comments we collected. The few negatives centered around wireless connectivity - which is strange, given that many found this feature particularly easy to set up.
Prices vary quite a lot for the HP Envy 4520 Wireless Color Photo Printer, but you should be able to find one for under $69 at the moment. We think that's an exceptional deal for what is a very popular multi-function model. The only thing it lacks is a fax option, but how often do home printer users need a fax any more? Several owners liked how neat and compact it is (it's only 5 inches tall) and photo print quality, in particular, came in for much praise. As with any widely-used product, there were a few complaints, but nothing that cropped up often. The only thing that people didn't like was that it will only accept HP-brand cartridges which rules out cheaper replacements.
Right now the Canon PIXMA MX922 Wireless Color Photo Printer is around $73 — 50% off the list price. It's another very good deal from a manufacturer with a tremendous reputation in all areas of image capture and reproduction. Of course, it's not just a printer - it's a fax, copier, and scanner as well - and thus a machine that could satisfy the needs of the whole family, as well as the requirements of someone running a small business. The five ink cartridges not only produce rich colors but also could potentially save you money as you only have to replace the one that runs out - not a whole block of three or four. The 6 x 4 photo printing option direct from you smartphone or tablet also came in for a lot of positive comments, although a number of people did complain that it takes quite a long time to warm up.
Epson is another company with a terrific reputation, and the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 Wireless Color All-in-One Inkjet Printer gets consistently great feedback from both owners and reviewers. At the moment you can pick one up for about $149, a decent saving over the list price. It's a versatile machine, handling all kinds of different media (the 35-page automatic document feeder is well liked) and offering scanning, copying, and faxing as well. Like the Canon, it has separate ink cartridges (though four, rather than five), and it prints photos at a very high quality. No home printer is perfect, and people do complain about the fact that it won't print in just black if the color ink is low, but we should note that the Epson isn't the only printer that suffers from this problem.
Although you may be able to get the Brother HL3170CDW Wireless Color Printer for around $199 (a considerable savings off the list price), that still makes it far and away the most expensive home printer in our top five ratings. A few years ago, you wouldn't even have seen a color laser on a list like this - which shows how much prices for this technology have dropped - but it will still be beyond the budget of many. On the plus side, this is a fast machine, producing very high quality printing in most cases, particularly when duplexing (inkjets can cause pages to curl simply because they use "wet" ink). On the negative side, if you mostly print photos, a good inkjet is probably a better choice. Additionally, some users were unhappy with the capacity of the "starter" toner cartridge, which only gives you around 600 prints. Lasers generally output more than that, and this a reflection of a common complaint - that manufacturers have reduced machine prices but seem to make most of their money out of replacement toner or ink. That may true, but if so, it's true of everyone, not just this Brother printer.
Each of our final five will be the right printer for someone, but in the final analysis, the all-around best home printer is the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630. Although the Brother might just shade it in terms of out-and-out productivity, the Epson is its equal in many respects and has it beaten in photo quality — which is something that's very important for many home users.
Then of course you have to take into account the price. It's more or less half what you would pay for the Brother, yet it is capable of high resolution scans, good quality copying (single or double-sided), and superb duplex printing. It's also got all the connectivity you could want — so the entire family can use it, regardless of what smartphones, tablets, or computers they have. In fact, they don't even have to be at home to do so!
Ink cost is an issue — but it is with all printers, and the only real solution is to shop around when it comes time for replacements. Other than that, the Epson receives a great deal of praise from both testers and owners. Almost everyone raves about it — from home users who find it a breeze to set up and rave about how fast and easy it is to use — to professionals who compare it to machines costing five times as much. All around, this is the best home printer on the market, and it gets our highest recommendation.
It's always difficult to pick our Best Bang for Your Buck because our top five are all very good machines. Choosing from this collection is particularly difficult, but in the end our best value for money home printer is the Canon PIXMA MX922.
The Epson came close to taking both awards, and it would also have been easy to choose the HP Envy. However, if you can still get one at the $73 offer price, the Canon is a remarkable machine from a company with a great reputation. It does everything you need, from scanning and copying, to duplex printing. It even has a fax machine. Photo reproduction in particular is outstanding, but then again you might have expected that from a company that also produces cameras!
Connectivity and compatibility are as good as anything out there - no matter what gadget you've got, there's a way to make it print using the Canon. Colors are particularly rich thanks to the 5 inks - a bonus feature that might also save you money. Set-up is considered easy by most, and while it may not be the fastest printer to actually get going, there are few complaints about its output once it's started. Given its value, it's not surprising that it is one of the most popular machines on the market. Of course in turn leads itself to a few criticisms, but these are substantially outweighed by the number of positive comments and the number of owners who "absolutely love it." If you are on a budget for a home printer, this is the best choice for you.